5 questions with Natasha Bowdoin

Natasha and I met at the Bemis Artist in Residence Program in Omaha, NE in 2012. We were Omaha besties, often breaking up the hours of working-on-end with gym sessions, coffee and trips to the unique local eateries. She's super awesome, smart and fun... and an incredible artist. 

Name: Natasha Bowdoin

www.natashabowdoin.com

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? 

 I’ve been living and working in Houston, TX for about 6 years now. Originally I came to Houston to participate in the Core Residency Program, which provided me a studio at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Glassell School for two years.  Then, for several years, my husband Josh and I shared an attic studio space above the carport behind our apartment. As of last October I’m in a new studio about 5 minutes away from our apartment, which has given me more space to work on larger pieces.

My husband Josh and our cat Coyote make up my day to day. They are my great familiars. We’re thinking of adding a bird to the family too, maybe sometime soon. In all honesty if our apartment were a bit bigger I would add in as many animals as possible. It’s a goal to work towards anyway.  I also have dear friends in my current studio building whom I see day to day.

Garden Plot, 2013 , Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5'  Site-specific installation at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM

Garden Plot, 2013 , Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5'  Site-specific installation at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM

Detail of Garden Plot, 2013, Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5' 

Detail of Garden Plot, 2013, Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5' 

What’s an average studio day like? 

My studio days vary. I think I have a pattern of working in bursts. There are periods of intense activity involving many long hours and many late nights. Other times I work on more of a 10 to 6 schedule, come home for dinner, and then go back for more. Things have changed a bit since I’ve started teaching. I try to be very active on the days I’m not at school. I do especially love working at night. Things feel more possible when the sun is down. Plus I enjoy sleeping in when I can.   I usually get right to work when I arrive – drawing or cutting. Often times I break up my day by reading or pouring through the source material that is currently feeding my work. I also read as I draw, since much of my work is inspired and created from the act of transcription.

I do listen to music while I’m working, when I’m not reading. Right now I enjoy, in addition to my own music library, KCRW, sometimes the news, and often an array of podcasts. My favorite of all time being Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm.

As far as source material goes I’m always hunting for images. I prefer the old fashioned way of discovering source material: wandering the stacks at the library. I also occasionally poke around on the internet. I really love Will Schofield’s blog 50 Watts, a great treasure trove of book-related design and illustration. At this particular moment I’m captivated by images of Antonio Rubino’s Fiorella. Rubino was an Italian illustrator that lived from 1880-1964. I’ve also recently been collecting images of old astronomical drawings and prints of the moon, specifically from the 1600 and 1700s. So far my favorites are moon maps drawn by astronomer Giovanni Cassini in Paris in the 1670s.

Studio shot

Studio shot

What are you working on now? What are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?

Much of my work for awhile now has been centered around the idea of using found text as raw material, in an effort to re-imagine the intersection of the visual and the literal beyond our traditional expectations. I currently have a few things in the fire. I’ve begun work on some large-scale cut paper installations. Since I don’t start out with a final form in mind, initially this work involves making many drawings, cutting them up, and then trying out different combinations of layers and intersections. I’ve also been working on a series of small cut paper pieces that are moving towards three dimensions, influenced by Rubino’s flower drawings and transcriptions of naturalist texts. Lastly I have a series started that is my attempt to draw the moon. I was inspired by a series of star map prints my husband Josh has been working on and I thought it might be nice to try and make a companion piece to his night sky. So far, the gouache and ink drawings transcribe stories about the moon into the moon’s surface. The most recent, lovely story I have been transcribing is “The Distance of the Moon” by Italo Calvino. The moon series is moving back towards more traditional drawing for me, and offers a meditative relief from the more aggressive large installation work. Since I don’t know exactly where things will end up I like to have different bodies of work developing at the same time, in the hope that if one doesn’t work out it can feed right into another.

Atom A, 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, Detail 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, Detail 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

I’m not much of a planner in the studio. In fact it’s usually the times when I come in to the studio with a particular plan or vision that things really don’t work out.  It’s always a tricky balance for me to maintain the space to work intuitively, without preconceived notions or constrictions. It’s almost required, especially when I begin a body of work, that I don’t know what’s “right” or “wrong”. This mindset is sometimes hard to maintain and involves really embracing self-doubt. If something doesn’t feel like it’s headed in the right direction I literally cut it up. The piece becomes fodder for future work. I like to save everything: that way failed works retain the potential for transformation.  When I’m feeling confused about the thinking behind new work I usually gravitate towards reading. Reading from my pool of source material usually lets me refocus and find the crux of the work. I try to constantly replenish the books I read – outside the realm of visual art – from poetry, mythology, fiction, naturalist accounts, etc. That keeps things fresh, visually and conceptually, in the studio.

Moon map in progress

Moon map in progress

How do you sustain your creative life? (How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

I’m very grateful for my current and still relatively new job teaching at Rice University. For a while I was hopping from residency to residency to sustain and support my work. Then I began adjuncting in Houston as well. Now I’m teaching at Rice as an Assistant Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department. In my earlier life I’ve had the random collection of odd jobs to stay afloat.  I spent many years working at art museums as a preparator. I’ve worked on construction sites, as a landscaper, and as a third shift warehouse worker at L.L.Bean for a spell (I’ve always loved the nighttime!).  Perhaps my most memorable job was working as sternswoman on my uncle Mike’s lobster boat between undergrad and grad school.

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

I’m not sure I’m qualified myself to give this kind of advice but if I were to presume to impart any kind of wisdom to young artists, I would say stay connected to what you do and feed your practice. I think at the end of the day it’s ultimately easy to make something, but why you want to make it and what it might be about is a lot more difficult and maybe, I suspect, requires an artist to take more responsibility. I would say feed your practice every day with images and ideas that you find compelling and that feel important to you. Even if your source material resembles nothing of what you actually produce it’s still in there somewhere and helps you to figure out what’s important for the long-term life of your studio. I also think a little humility goes a long way. Doubt can be an important productive force in the studio: if you don’t let it in I think you can miss out on making something unexpected.

 

www.natashabowdoin.com

Natasha is represented by: 

Monya Rowe Gallery, New York, NY – www.monyarowegallery.com

Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, TX – www.talleydunn.com

 

Natasha is currently working a site-specific installations at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, TX which opens in February 2015 (about three hours outside Dallas). The work will occupy two old jail cells built in the 1870s, now turned into art spaces. She is also creating a new large-scale installation at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA to open in May 2015.